|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Square Enix||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Science fiction, technology, and space themes have not always been quite as prevalent in classic fantasy RPG games as they are today. Such themes have been around in some form or another, even back on the first home gaming consoles, but the way they're melded into current generation RPGs continues to evolve in far more elaborate and epic ways. While it's often humorous to look back at how quaint earlier efforts to blend sci-fi and medieval fantasy realms together, there are some titles that do the job surprisingly well. The first Star Ocean - a game previously only available in Japan on the Super Famicom - is a great example.
Remakes of old games are nothing new to the gaming industry. However, it seems like more time and effort is being put in to making them increasingly elaborate. Gamers who missed oldies but goodies the first time around are now able to pick up antiquated titles and experience them through more modern means. Square Enix seems to be churning out its fair share of quality remakes these days, and Star Ocean: First Departure on the PSP is yet another strong update on a classic. After more than a decade of waiting, American fans of the series are in for a treat.
First Departure kicks off in a typical fantasy world of swords, magic, and monsters. The game's young hero, Roddick, and his two pals Millie and Dorne find themselves on guard duty for the small village of Fellpool, when a strange disease in a nearby town begins turning citizens to stone. They venture out to find herbs believed to be a cure and end up on a high mountaintop. From there, the story quickly morphs into something that feels like it's culled directly from an episode of Star Trek. The group is stunned when two members of the Terran Alliance beam down onto the planet before their very eyes and inform them the disease originates as some form of biological weapon unleashed by a warring space faction. After a brief jaunt on their spacecraft, the group time warps into the past to recover DNA from an ancient monster deemed to be the true origin of the virus. Much of the ensuing adventure then follows along more traditional JRPG standards. It's a good mix of old school fantasy and sci-fi, even if the latter is a little disappointingly underdeveloped.
The visual update given to the game is immediately impressive, while still retaining the flavor of the original Super Famicom version. The remake utilizes a modified version of the same engine used for the PlaytStation sequel Star Ocean: The Second Story. All of the sprites are nicely composed, yet they retain a subtle pixelation that seems a bit off in contrast to the rest of the visuals. It lends a little retro vibe to the presentation. What really stand out are the game's finely detailed environments. Sure, traversing the overworld map to venture in-between some locales isn't terribly exciting due to the bland terrain, but the towns, dungeons, and other areas of your adventure are bursting with pleasant detail. This is a good-looking game all around. Lengthy Anime cutscenes, extensive voice work, and an excellent audio score really add positively to make the re-vamped experience far more than a mere re-hash.
Anyone well-versed in RPG tradition will find little new about the gameplay in First Departure. Considering the game is over a decade old, it's understandable. Traveling through towns, you'll converse with people to gain information and progress the storyline, pick up new items and equipment, and snag new abilities to learn, among other things. Random encounters pop up in dungeons and when you're roaming around the world map. A certain amount of level grinding is necessary, yet it's not overly tedious like in some JRPGs. As you pick up different skills, you can create your own weapons, food, and other items, which is admittedly a pretty cool feature that would have been ahead of its time when the game first launched.